The city's Planning Commission on Thursday approved a hot- button modernization plan for Los Angeles International Airport that includes a shift of its northern runways closer to Westchester, with the head of the city's airport authority telling the panel there is a race among airports to attract international flight traffic.
During the commission meeting, airport officials touted the economic benefits of widening LAX's north airfield, a plan unpopular with Westchester and Playa del Rey residents because it would push the northernmost runway 260 feet closer to their homes.
Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, said the international flights that could be accommodated as a result of the expansion would inject hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.
LAX is "still dominantly domestic traffic, but we have a growing international sector," Lindsey said. She referred to an economic study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation that says "daily trans-oceanic international flights are estimated ... to generate $623 million a year in economic activity in the city of Los Angeles."
"The disproportionate economic advantage of international flights is not something that's lost on other cities," she said. "Many of them are actually putting incentives on the table to try to get international flights. It would be short-sighted for Los Angeles to not reconfigure its major gateway airport in a way to provide an economic engine going forward and be competitive in international travel."
The modernization proposal, which now moves to the City Council, would put a taxi lane between the northern airfield's two runways to accommodate large aircraft like Airbus 380s that are now restricted to southern runways. Residents and representatives of area lawmakers, along with City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, protested LAWA's plan at the commission's meeting, as they did at previous hearings.
"If you move the runway north, it is permanently moving the flight path over our neighborhood," according to Robert Acherman, vice president of the Alliance for Regional Solutions to Airport Congestion, which opposes the north airfield expansion.
Craig Eggers of the Westchester/Playa Del Rey Neighborhood Council told the commission his council supports the modernization plans, but not the airfield expansion. Whitney Blumenfeld of Rosendahl's office told the commission, "Modernization, yes; expansion, no."
"Analysis in LAWA's final EIR (environmental impact report) shows that we don't need to move the runways for safety or operational efficiency," Blumenfeld said.
The councilman has said he supports linking public transit to the main airport terminal and improving grand transportation, plans popular among residents who oppose the north airfield expansion. The opposition to the plan was evenly matched by members of business groups who said the plans would bring jobs and dollars to the city.
"Now, as we begin the city's approval process it is time for everybody to realize how important LAX is to Los Angeles' economy," said Chris Hannan of the Los Angeles County Building & Construction Trades Council. "It has the ability to be a huge economic driver or an excuse for Los Angeles to fall behind."
Laurie Hughes, representing the business improvement district around the airport, said hotels, office buildings, car rental agencies and other businesses "tied very closely to LAX" would benefit from LAWA's proposal. Planning Commission President William Roschen praised the plan and said he had no choice but to make a motion to recommend it to City Council.
"It's a huge improvement in safety," he said. The project, which has been in the works since 2006, also awaits approval by Federal Aviation Administration. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is also expected to weigh in.
Supervisor Don Knabe last week raised concerns about the north airfield expansion proposal, saying it could violate a 2006 settlement agreement that regulates LAX's traffic and noise impacts in adjacent communities. Knabe said the county "in no uncertain terms, intends to enforce compliance with the settlement agreement."